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NBA Season Preview: The Washington Wizards

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john_wall_washington_wizards_summer_league.jpgLast season: 26-56, which actually sounds better than it was. The Wizards were disappointing long before two pistols ever found their way into the Washington locker room, or Gilbert Arenas unholstered his finger guns, or the Wiz started trading away their most productive players.  

Head Coach:
Flip Saunders. Considering last season’s extracurricular activities, Saunders did a fairly decent job of preventing a complete implosion. He’ll have plenty of new talent to play with this season and not all that many quantifiable expectations, so as long as Saunders does the same kind of coaching that got him the gig in the first place (creative offense, decent defense) while keeping John Wall happy, and grooming the young’ns,  making the playoffs is really secondary.

Key Departures:
Mike Miller, Randy Foye, Shaun Livingston, James Singleton, Earl Boykins, a dark cloud hanging overhead.

Key Additions:
John Wall, Kirk Hinrich, Yi Jianlian, Josh Howard (re-signed), Kevin Seraphin, Trevor Booker, members of the Cult of John Wall.

Best case scenario: Wall is an undeniable star, Gilbert Arenas’ play reminds us of the star he once was, Andray Blatche suddenly gets it, JaVale McGee looks and plays the part of a reliable starting center, Yi Jianlian looks like a regular contributor, and the Wizards live happily ever after on their way toward fringe contention for a playoff spot.

For that to happen: Well, like the prompt dictates, a lot will have to go right. Just about everything, in fact. Reaching that scenario will mostly be contingent on individual performances, because at this point, that’s what the Wizards are playing for. Appraisal. Evaluation. Individual consistency. To see which players play well and which don’t, and to see which mix of players should form Washington’s fledgling core.

How they play and perform as a team is obviously still of great import, but less so for Washington than other squads. The Wizards are not a playoff team this season. Not unless Wall is out-of-this-world good as a rook, Arenas spent his offseason becoming an alchemist that can turn bad shot attempts into gold, or one of the other rotation regulars decides to evolve into something outright nasty. 

More likely, the Wizards will: Be alright, but not playoff contenders. The gap between what the Wizards could be and what the rest of
the Eastern Conference teams already are is simply too substantial to
expect a postseason berth for Washington. Instead, they’ll begin to form the structure of something that could one day be great. Wall is a central ingredient, but Washington’s other young talent should take steps forward alongside him, even if they can’t quite keep up.

Wall is going to be a treat, the full sweetness of which we can’t even fathom at the moment. It’s going to be a hell of a show, and Wall will prove that he’s completely worthy of all the pre-draft (and post-draft, for that matter) trumpeting.

His addition just isn’t enough to push Washington over the hump. The claim that the Wizards will miss the playoffs is not a declaration of the Knicks and Bobcats as some kind of
powerhouse tandem. Hardly so. Washington just needs some work, and
expecting them to put in all of that work over the course of one season while also mounting
a serious playoff push is a bit much.

The Wizards were 25th in the league
in defensive rebounding rate last season, and their most significant rebounding addition is likely Yi, who has averaged just 7.9 boards per 36 minutes over his career. I like JaVale McGee and Andray Blatche as much as anyone, but both need to be more prolific and more consistent in their rebounding. Could happen, but color me doubtful.

Washington was horrible on offense last season, ranking 26th in effective field goal percentage, 25th in turnover rate, and 22nd in free throw rate. Having Wall and Arenas on the court should do wonders to help in each of those categories, but a rookie point guard (even one of Wall’s talents) and an unpredictable scoring guard aren’t the surest horses to right the ship, even in a poorly-conceived mixed metaphor. Both will help the Wizards thrive in comparison to last season, but jumping from an atrocious offense to a passable one isn’t likely to guarantee the Wizards a playoff spot.

Plus, as bad as the Wizards’ offense was last season, their defense may have been even worse. That kind of thing tends to happen when four of the team’s five starters (including their best defensive center) are gone by February, forcing Saunders to dig deep into his bench for potential stopgaps.

This group should be better, but man. Gilbert Arenas. Al Thornton. Nick Young. Josh Howard. Hilton Armstrong. Yi Jianlian. Please, stop me when I get to a name that encourages confidence in Washington’s defense.

The Wizards should improve by default on the defensive end this season, but again, there’s a question of how much improvement can be reasonably expected. Perhaps they’ll find a way to reconcile some of their individual defensive deficiencies with good rotations and sound decision-making on the back line. That just sounds like a lot to expect from McGee, Blatche, and the Wizards’ perimeter defenders, most of whom have been a bit light on defensive savvy up to this point.

Prediction: 35 wins. Turn the page, Wizards. It’s a new day.

Rudy Gobert says if officials don’t start protecting him from fouls ‘it’s gonna get ugly’

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Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert has been no stranger to NBA officials this season. The Frenchman has already been fined for his comments on what he believes is poor officiating, and he doesn’t appear to be letting up anytime soon.

After the Jazz lost a heartbreaker to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday, 122-113, Gobert again decided to make it known how he felt about the folks in gray.

Specifically, Rudy Gobert said that if officials weren’t going to start protecting him against other players fouling him with disregard, he would have to take it into his own hands.

Via the Salt Lake Tribune:

“Tonight, someone grabbed my arm, pulled me down — that was a very dangerous play, and I got called for the foul. So if I gotta do justice myself, I’m gonna do justice myself. And it’s gonna get ugly,” Gobert said. “Hopefully I don’t have to do that. I just want to play basketball.”

That’s about as close as we’ll ever get to fighting words in the NBA, and Gobert was probably pretty heated after the loss when he said those things.

Still, officiating has been a question around the league this season, and it’s possible that Gobert has some legitimate complaints. Hopefully the coaching staff and front office in Utah is doing what they can to lobby the league so that Gobert doesn’t take it out on his fellow players. He’s already slapped a water bottle off the scorer’s table this year, and the Jazz can’t afford Gobert boiling over.

Shareef Abdur-Rahim to take over as president of the G-League

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You likely remember Shareef Abdur-Rahim as No. 3 overall pick in the 1996 Draft out of Cal who went on to play a dozen seasons in the NBA, even making an All-Star Team in 2002 as a member of the Atlanta Hawks.

Since his playing days, he has stayed in basketball. He was the GM of the G-League’s Reno Bighorns, assistant general manager of the Sacramento Kings, and most recently has been the NBA’s vice president of basketball operations. He’s climbed the ladder fast at age 42.

Now he will take over as president of the G-League, the NBA announced Tuesday. Abdur-Rahim replaces Malcolm Turner, who is leaving the position to take over as the athletic director at Vanderbilt University.

“I am thrilled to have this extraordinary opportunity with the NBA G League,” Abdur-Rahim said in a released statement. “I’ve seen firsthand the NBA G League’s remarkable growth under Malcolm’s leadership, and I look forward to working with the players, teams and my colleagues to take the league to even greater heights.”

“Shareef’s unique experiences as a player, team executive and member of the NBA’s Basketball Operations department make him a fantastic fit to be the next President of the NBA G League,” NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said in a statement.

The NBA is working to turn the G-League into a true minor league where teams develop players — they have had success in the past year with two-way contracts bringing us guys such as the Knicks’ Allonzo Trier — as well as making the league a real option for young players leaving high school who don’t see a year or two in college as a fit for them. It’s also where the league experiments with rule changes before putting them in action in the NBA, such as resetting the shot clock to 14 (instead of 24) after an offensive rebound.

For Abdur-Rahim, running the G-League could prove to be another stepping stone in his career.

 

 

Anthony Davis hears your cheers, reiterates he wants to win in New Orleans

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When Anthony Davis was introduced and stepped on the court at the Boston Garden Monday night, Celtics fans did their best to recruit him and show their love.

Davis has gotten the same reaction in Los Angeles and other cities. If the Pelicans ever decide they have to trade him — something that will not happen until this summer, if it happens at all — or if he decides to leave the Big Easy as a free agent in 2020, the Celtics, Lakers and every other team in the NBA will be lined up for the chance to get a transformational player entering his peak.

Davis has heard the cheers. He knows the situation. He knows every other fan base in the NBA covets him.

And he reiterated again Monday night — after his squad fell to a shorthanded Celtics team — that what he really wants to do is win In New Orleans. Davis told Tim Bontemps of ESPN he thinks the Pelicans can repeat or improve on their trip to the second round from last season.

“For sure,” he said after scoring 41 points to go with 7 rebounds in Monday’s loss. “We had everybody healthy the first four games, and we went 4-0. Then Elfrid [Payton] goes down, I’ve been out a couple games, Niko [Mirotic] … a lot of guys have been out. Every time we’ve had a full roster, we’ve been a tough team to beat….

“I heard it tonight,” the 25-year-old said when asked if he heard the local fans cheering for him during the game. “But I’m just focused on this team. I’m trying to do whatever I can to help this team get wins with the roster we have. It’s been a rocky season, so it’s on me to try to figure it out….

“So for me, I just go out there and play with this team and go out there and try to have fun and get wins. That’s all I’m worried about is getting wins for this team and hopefully we can get further than we did last year.”

The 14-15 Pelicans sit as the current 10 seed in the West, just two games out of the final playoff slot. If they can get healthy, if they can string some wins together they can certainly make the playoffs. There it will become all about matchups, but the Pelicans showed last season that behind Davis they have the talent to advance.

Will that be enough for the competitive Davis, who wants to take his seat with the best in the game today?

Only Davis knows, and all he has ever said is he wants to win in New Orleans.

Come July 1, the Pelicans will offer Davis the designated veteran max extension, which is in the ballpark of $230 million (or more) over five years. That’s more than any other team will be able to offer him, and it’s A LOT of money. Not something someone walks away from lightly. He may well re-sign in New Orleans (he would sacrifice $33 million guaranteed if traded to another team and he re-signs there, he would give up $84 million guaranteed to leave as a free agent).

If Davis and new agent Rich Paul say no to the contract extension, then the Battle Royale to trade for his services would be on. Probably. Would the Pelicans trade him or try to woo him for another season, players like this don’t come around often? Would Davis try to exert control over the trade process saying he would only re-sign with certain teams? Would a team roll the dice with an over-the-top offer thinking that they could win him over (sort of like OKC did with Paul George and Toronto did with Kawhi Leonard)? There are a lot of variables.

But that is all just speculation. Right now, Davis is just trying to win with the Pelicans.

Jimmy Butler says he shot only once while leading Timberwolves’ third-stringers to practice win over starters

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Fed up with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins not matching his competitiveness, fed up with the Timberwolves for not trading him yet and apparently fed up with being told he must practice… Jimmy Butler unleashed hell during a scrimmage before the season.

Butler reportedly arrived late, led third-stringers to a win over the starters, talked smack and then left early. The Minnesota practice instantly became legendary.

And we didn’t even realize the full extent of Butler’s showing.

Butler, via The Ringer:

The most interesting detail of that whole scrimmage that nobody knows: I only shot the ball once.

Oh, I was dominating, but I only shot the ball once. Dimes, boom, boom, boom. Steals, blocks. I only shot the ball one time.

That is peak Jimmy Butler. He is so good. Though he’s a quality scorer, he affects the game in so many ways. Nearly all stars are excellent with the ball, but the ones who contribute to winning without the ball give their team an extra edge.

Butler has those skills, and it allows 76ers teammates like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid more room to operate in their comfort zones. With so many questions raised about Butler as a teammate, I’d take him on my team any day.

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